Moment of Panic

The doors effortlessly slide open and then glide close in perfect mechanical motions. Pushing the button to summon or direct the elevator occurs with little, maybe no, thought.

Our expectation about how things should work is at least occasionally contradicted with how they do work.

Escalators, for instance, are supposed to move us stair-like from one floor to another, all without our having to physically take any steps. Moving sidewalks, as are found in airports, transport passengers on a large conveyor belt from terminal to terminal in the same way, appropriately, baggage is moved.

An aside: anyone ever had a lost piece of luggage at the airport?

Intuitively and experientially, we are fully aware that mechanical devices break. Occasionally, the results are horrible though, mostly, the mechanical breakdown is more or less benign. A little inconvenient, maybe, but not much else.

Getting stuck in an elevator is the stuff of movies. And when protagonists are trapped, we’re empathetic; antagonists can suffer, for all we care – they probably deserve what they’re getting.

Rarely, though, do we observe such things in real life.

Once, a high-level HR person found themselves stuck in an elevator. Though help arrived quickly – within five minutes – there was plenty of panic outside the elevator. One can only imagine what was going on inside. And no one envied the HR person.

Which, given their professional position, is by itself surprising.

Recently, after swiping the magic card that allows (those presumptuous enough to think themselves a) Big Mahofs entry to the elevator, the doors closed perfectly, though the device failed to move.

Then the door refused to open. Again pushed the floor level button. Nothing. Pushed the “open door” button. Nothing. Pushed the “door close” button. Still nothing. Swiped the interior elevator device with the magic card again. Nothing.


A sinking feeling sets in. As does panic.

Being alone, uttering aloud an expletive didn’t seem entirely out-of-place or indelicate. Or in-uh-ppropriate. Used the downstate New York (or maybe it’s the Long-Guy-Land) pronunciation: “Shi-tuh!” Emphasis on the second syllable.

Second time that’s happened to me. Ever. And each time, the “downer New York” version of the expletive worked. The doors opened.

Say what you will about them – they’re abrupt, loud, rude – the downstate New Yorkers also have a way with elevators.

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